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How do I set up pretax 401k contributions to meet company match when my commission income varies from check to check?

As a sales manager Most of my income is based on commissions. I have a nominal base salary that pays about $800 biweekly if there are no commissions. My income stream fluctuates greatly. One paycheck may be $800 (base salary no commissions), and my next check may be $15,000. I'm not sure how to set up 401k contributions to meet company match. I'm currently being taxed on all income.

Jan 09, 2016 by Kristian in  |  Flag
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When you log into your participant site to change your contribution amount are you allowed to use a %? If so then this is likely the best solution. If your contributions happen to reach the maximum amount allowed by law ($18k if under age 50 and $24k if 50 and older) before year end the payroll system should stop withholding your contribution so you will not over contribute.

If your participant site only allows a $ amount for contributions then you have a challenge. If your employer matches your contribution each pay, and you are trying to maximize the employer contribution, then it will be important to be sure to make a contribution every paycheck for at least the percentage of your pay that the employer will match. i.e. if they will match up to the first 4% of pay then be sure to select a contribution amount that is likely to be 4% of pay or more.

In both solutions above, if your employer matches, you have one other consideration. Most plans only match on a paycheck by paycheck basis. So if you were to reach your maximum contribution limit before the year is up and then have a $0 401k contribution for the rest of the year you would miss out on the associated match for those paychecks.

Sorry I can’t be of more help.

1 Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 09, 2016 from Woodbridge, VA
James D. Kinney, CFP®

That's about what I was going to say - you can usually specify a % of salary as contribution, and you just set the % to match the maximum company match.

Flag |  Jan 09, 2016 near Bridgewater, NJ

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What John said, but in addition, I would caution you not to allow the company match to define your retirement savings amount. If you need to save more to achieve your retirement goals, do it - even if it means you are saving in excess of the match. It sounds as if you make some decent money, and therefore probably have a sizable tax liability. Saving pre-tax as in a 401k simply makes more sense to me than after tax alternatives. In my opinion, high income people should max their 401k first, before saving to other after tax alternatives.

If you are not sure how much you need to save, I would suggest sitting down with a Certified Financial Planner and create a savings plan that makes sense for you.

Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 09, 2016 from Bridgewater, NJ

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